By HOPPY KERCHEVAL
MORGANTOWN -- Any discussion about West Virginia's political landscape in the future should include the name Robin Davis. The veteran state Supreme Court Justice has the pedigree and the means to be a significant player.
But to know where Davis might be headed, it's instructive to first know more about where she has been. Davis's interest in politics and public service was instilled at a young age in Boone County.
"When you grow up in the southern part of West Virginia then politics is in your blood," Davis told me Wednesday.
Her mother, Deloris Jean Davis, worked her way through the school system and eventually became superintendent.
"She was a groundbreaker," Davis says of her mother.
Her father, Arthur, was a heavy equipment operator at a coal mine in Twilight. Her grandfather, William Dingess, was the Boone county sheriff.
Did they talk politics at home?
"Oh my gosh, every night at my grandfather's house next door," Davis said.
Things really got cranked up at election time.
"I can remember driving with my mother and grandfather to different precincts to see how the votes were coming out," Davis said "It was exciting."
Davis is expansive and engaging when talking about her blue collar family background and the thrill of local politics back in Boone County, but when I turn to her political future, Davis becomes much more guarded.
Yes, she thinks about her options, but "always in the abstract." In other words, you will not get the life-long Democrat to say what offices she's considering over the next several election cycles.
The simplest alternative would be for Davis to run for re-election when her 12-year term ends in 2012. Davis, 53, has established herself as a pragmatic and respected justice; re-election would not be a problem.
She could run for governor when Joe Manchin's term ends in 2012. But I don't see that happening. Davis strikes me as someone more interested in bigger policy matters than the day-to-day, hour-to-hour challenges of the governorship.
Most every West Virginia lawyer fantasizes about a lifetime appointment to the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. However, it's unlikely another West Virginian would be appointed to the court and neither of the current West Virginians on the court -- Blane Michael and Robert King -- is going anywhere.
Then there's the crown jewel: The U.S. Senate. Davis simply refuses to engage in speculation about the possibility of running for Senator Byrd's seat if it would become vacant.
"It would be disrespectful to him and his office and his more than 50 years of public service to discuss that seat at all," Davis says firmly.
Whatever Davis decides to run for -- and she does intend to continue in politics when her term expires in 2012 -- financing a campaign will not be a problem. Her husband, Scott Segal, is one of the most successful trial lawyers in the state.
Davis can, if she wishes, pay for a big-time statewide campaign with her own money; she's done it twice before, in 1996 for an unexpired term on the court and again in 2000 for the full 12-year term.
Whatever her political future is will be a family decision involving her husband, their 11-year-old son, Oliver, and her mother (her father remains very much a part of the family, but is now in a nursing home after suffering a stroke in 2000).
Davis admits her nature is to labor over her decisions a little too long, but she adds, "Once I make a decision, it's done."
Davis remembers that growing up in the boiling pot of Boone County politics Election Day was special.
"Every time there was an election it was a big deal," Davis said.
But the next election may be the biggest yet for Davis.
Kercheval is vice president of operations for MetroNews and the host of Talkline, which has become a signature program of the network.